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U.S. Justice Department Questions Broadcaster Over 'Voice Of Russia' Ties

The U.S. Justice Department has requested information from a private U.S. broadcasting company about its links to The Voice Of Russia, a Russian-government-funded media organization, and to the Russian government.

The English-language website of The Voice of Russia and the Russian newspaper "Izvestia" reported on February 5 that RM Broadcasting had received a letter from the Justice Department's counterintelligence unit requesting a description of services provided to the Kremlin.

The reports said the probe could lead to the broadcasting company being included in a U.S. government registry of foreign agents, a list usually reserved for lobbyists.

The article that appeared on the website of The Voice of Russia quoted the company's chairman, Andrei Bystritsky, as saying, "The probe is not yet over, but there is nothing awful about it. Every nation has its laws."

The article has since been removed from the site.

RM President Arnold Ferolito told RFE/RL that he had received the letter from the U.S. Justice Department several months ago. He said his company provides U.S. radio transmission services for The Voice of Russia.

"Those are formality letters," Ferolito said. "It's normal for the government to do that. [My lawyers] have responded to it and it doesn't look like I need to do anything with [the Department of Justice], because I'm one of the facilitators for [The Voice of Russia]. I just provide the transmission."

Ferolito, whose wife is Russian, said his company has worked with The Voice of Russia since 2010. The Kremlin-controlled media organization began broadcasting out of Washington in June 2011. It also broadcasts out of New York City. It says its mission is to "shape Russia’s image worldwide and introduce Russia to the world and highlight its opinions on global events."

A spokesperson for the U.S. Justice Department told RFE/RL in an e-mail, "As part of its normal functions, the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) unit routinely sends letters to persons and entities seeking information from them to determine whether they might be required to register with the Justice Department under FARA."

The Department said entities registered under the act are required to "make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities."

It is not clear when the Justice Department will complete its inquiry.